Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Las Vegas, Nevada
December 21st 3:30 PM ET
#20 Fresno State (11-1, 7-1) vs. #25 USC (9-4, 6-3)
Fresno State Preview
Fresno State will be looking to finish off a great 2013 season with some close shootouts along the way. Overtime wins vs Rutgers, 52-51, and at San Diego State, 35–28, alongside almost tripping up late back to back, with wins against Boise State 41-40 and at Hawaii 42-37. These close games highlighted Fresno weak defense, which finally found itself on the losing side in a shootout at San Jose State 52-62. David Fales led his Spartans relentlessly into the endzone, keeping the game close all the way through. The bulldogs stumbled in the second half and were unable to keep up the scoring, only managing a meager 3 points in the 3rd quarter when both teams were averaging 3 touchdowns a quarter before hand. This loss also ultimately put away any chances of a BCS bowl game. They go into Las Vegas on a high having put away Utah State early to take the Mountain West Conference title.
The Bulldogs have been led by the dynamic duo of Davante Adams and Derek Carr, leading Fresno State to the leading passing attack in the country averaging 409.8 passing yards a game. The partnerships of Adams and Carr have accounted to almost half of their aerial TD’s with Adams being targeted often in the redzone, taking full advantage of his great ability to high point and bring in contested balls. Although Adams and Carr headline the offense Josh Harper has quietly gone about accumulating 1,011 yards, and a complementary rushing attack of Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller compiling 1,416 yards on the ground. Although the numbers may suggest Carr is just out throwing bombs all day long, their offense is predicated on passes into the flats and screens getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers and making defenders miss in space. This does open up the big play down the field where Carr is helped out tremendously by the talents of left tackle Austin Wentworth, who will certainly find a home in the pro’s next year.
Fresno State has needed the extraordinary production from their offense to cover for the deficiency on defense. The one bright spark has been free safety Derron Smith whose 6 Interceptions lead the team. He will also be sent to blitz on occasion having 3 sacks on the year. True Sophomore Ejiro Ederaine has been an exciting addition to the Bulldogs defense this year totaling 10 sacks by the outside linebacker. The Bulldogs defense has struggled when team’s attack them deep and have some very suspect corner play to stay the least.
Fresno State Leaders
Passing: Derek Carr 424-605, 4,866 Yards, 48 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Josh Quezada 153 Attempts, 787 Yards, 6 TD
Receiving: Davante Adams 122 Receptions, 1,645 Yards, 23 TD
Tackles: Karl Mickelsen 88 Tackles, 1 TFL
Sacks: Ejiro Ederaine 10 Sacks
Interceptions: Derron Smith 6 INT
A turbulent year for USC will end with its 3rd head coach on the sideline in Las Vegas, yet a win could take them to their 10th on the year. The first coaching change came after a 3-2 start to the year, with the final straw being a 62-41 loss at Arizona State ending Lane Kiffin’s tenure with the Trojan’s. Ed Orgeron was then appointed as the Interim head coach. Orgeron reign included an impressive victory over Stanford, ending any hope the Cardinals had at playing in the National Championship game. USC’s last game saw them convincingly beaten by local rivals UCLA 35-14 at the Coliseum, this sour note was quickly followed by athletic director Pat Haden announcing Steve Sarkisian as the Head coach going forward next year. This led to Orgeron’s immediate resignation from his interim position, which will put Offensive coordinator Clay Helton as the Head Coach on the sideline for Saturday.
Offensively USC have struggled to get their star wideout Marqise Lee to emulate his first 2 years outstanding play. Lee has dealt with injury’s all year and has not had the same production without Matt Barkley under center, USC’s offensive woes aren’t solely down to Cody Kessler. Silas Redd has not lived up to his preseason hype, who having also struggled with injuries so much so that Tre Madden leads the team in rushing yards. Its hasn’t been all bad news for the Trojans with Nelson Agholor having a good sophomore season leading the team with 824 yards receiving, having only 1 more reception than Lee. Las Vegas native Xavier Grimble has not had the year many expected, with the tight end not being utilized as redzone threat, only bring in two touchdowns, down from five in 2012.
Where USC’s stars have struggled offensively, their defense has more than lived up to their hype, even with injury’s woes throughout the year, which continue with Morgan Breslin and Lamar Dawson out for Saturday. The Trojans defensive line of George Uko and outstanding true sophomore Leonard Williams who is 2nd for most tackles for the Trojan’s, the Defensive End trails Middle Linebacker Hayes Pullard who has elevated his play without Breslin of late. USC back end is secured by Free safety Dion Bailey, who originally played as a Linebacker his first 2 years in Southern California. Having made some big plays this year, none bigger than his Interception in there Stanford victory.
Passing: Cody Kessler 214-331, 2,623 Yards, 16 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Tre Madden 138 Attempts, 703 Yards, 3 TD
Receiving: Nelson Agholor 51 Receptions, 824 Yards, 4 TD
Tackles: Hayes Pullard 89 Tackles, 5.5 TFL
Sacks: Devon Kennard 9 Sacks
Interceptions: Dion Bailey 5 INT
Keys to Victory
Carr will face his toughest defensive opponents this year in USC and will have the scouting world picking through every snap of his performance. Whether this added pressure will bear down or if he rises to the occasion will be telling. USC could go about frustrating Carr by taking away his throws into the flat and making solid tackles in space, forcing Fresno to look for the big play.
If USC’s can keep the game close early on, they will have a great chance to take advantage of a thin Fresno’s defensive unit, who have given up a lot of points late in games. Albeit often in garbage time, it has lead to some nervy endings.
Motivation may come down to who ends up coming away with the win. Fresno go into the game facing a prestigious side whom would make a good scalp to finish off the year and Carr’s college career, whilst the Trojans having pulled behind Orgeron, now have another head coach whom has no implications on their future, as they go into a non BCS bowl game facing Mountain West opposition.
National Rankings Offense
Total: Fresno State 572.4 (3rd), USC 392.3 (78th)
Passing: Fresno State 409.8 (1st), USC 218.1 (77th)
Rushing: Fresno State 162.7 (70th), USC 174.2 (58th)
Scoring: Fresno State 45.3 (5th), USC 28.5 (68th)
Red Zone: Fresno State .853 (48th), USC .917 (7th)
National Rankings Defense
Total: Fresno State 425.1 (91st), USC 341.5 (16th)
Passing: Fresno State 277.4 (116th), USC 214.5 (32nd)
Rushing: Fresno State 147.7 (40th), USC 127.1 (19th)
Scoring: Fresno State 29.1 (80th), USC 21.3 (21st)
Redzone: Fresno State .854 (87th), USC .634 (3rd)
Turnover Margin: Fresno State +1 (54th) USC +6 (34th)
Top NFL Draft Prospects
Derek Carr, Quarterback, FRES, Senior
Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver, USC, Junior
Davante Adams, Wide Receiver, FRES, Sophomore
George Uko, Defensive End, USC, Junior
Hayes Pullard, Middle Linebacker, USC, Junior
Marcel Jensen, Tight End, FRES, Senior
Dion Bailey, Free Safety, USC, Junior
Xaiver Grimble, Tight End, USC, Junior
Silas Redd, Running Back, USC, Senior
Derron Smith, Free Safety, FRES, Junior
Featured Image via Kyle Terada/ US Presswire